The island

21 minutes

Stay close

19 minutes

A Jew walks into a bar

24 minutes

Maesteg

10 minutes

Summerhill

28 minutes

The island where 50 million crabs roam free and refugees are trapped in limbo

Located in the Indian Ocean, northeast of Australia and south of Indonesia, the Australian territory of Christmas Island is the arrival point for thousands of asylum seekers held in indefinite detention. Most of the island, however, is a protected national park, famous for its 50 million red crabs and their migration from the jungle to the sea. The Island follows Poh Lin Lee, a trauma counsellor who uses ‘sand tray therapy’ or ‘sand play’ to explore detainees’ personal and diverse stories of hardship, and helps them cope with the difficulties of life in detention. Despite her best efforts, Lee sees her patients – largely powerless, frequently mistreated and with little hope of freedom in sight – faring worse over time due to the anguish of living in limbo. Juxtaposing the spectacle of innumerable migrating crabs with the plight of the trapped detainees, this poignant short documentary probes the breadth, chaos and frequent cruelty of today’s migrant and refugee crises with an urgent humanity.

Director: Gabrielle Brady

Producer: Alex Kelly

Website: Guardian Documentaries

‘I feel the weight of everyone’: Keeth Smart foiled death to make it to the Olympics

Olympic athletes have, by definition, overcome overwhelming odds. But even among such a class of people, the US fencer Keeth Smart’s story stands out as extraordinary. He was the worst member of his high-school fencing club – which he joined only thanks to his talented sister (and future Olympian) Erinn – yet he ended up with a silver medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, just four months after he was diagnosed with leukaemia. Combining family home videos, a voiceover from Smart and graphic-novel-style animations, Stay Close shows how a black kid from Brooklyn dealt with his challenges to succeed in a sport dominated by affluent white athletes – and became the first US fencer to top the world’s rankings.

Directors: Luther Clement, Shuhan Fan

Producer: Nevo Shinaar

Being a stand-up comedian is hard. It’s even harder when it’s against your religion

Have you heard this one before? An ultra-Orthodox Jew breaks the rules by going online, falls in love with stand-up comedy, and starts performing in clubs to help manage his crippling social anxiety. With deadpan delivery, and often wearing traditional Jewish Orthodox clothing, David Finkelstein has developed a comedic sensibility that connects with audiences at open mics in New York City. But even as he grows ever more comfortable on stage and finds a second home in the comedy community, the experience is rife with challenges and compromises. Finkelstein is still devout and attempts to adhere to as many of his religion’s rules as possible, even as he operates in a cultural ‘grey area’ by performing. This means no physical contact with women, no vulgarity, and no shows on the Sabbath, which nixes the desirable slots on Friday and Saturday night. And, most challenging of all, it means navigating between two very different worlds as he tries to keep the faith while pursuing his passion.

An endearing fish-out-of-water tale that grapples meaningfully with questions of religious values, culture and mental health, A Jew Walks into a Bar follows Finkelstein as he tries to establish himself in the stand-up scene. The short is one-third of the US filmmaker Jonathan Miller’s feature-length documentary Standing Up (2019), which follows three unlikely stand-ups as they pursue comedy in New York.

Director: Jonathan Miller

Producers: Colin Bernatzky, Katharine Accardo

Website: Standing Up

A cabbie’s tour of his Welsh hometown where the jobs are gone but the stories remain

A generation ago, the Welsh valley town of Maesteg was a booming coal mining and manufacturing community. Today, the mines and factories have all closed, and the sweeping green hills outside town are capped with massive wind turbines. This short documentary chronicles a day in the life of a longtime cab driver, who goes by Stumpy, as he winds his way through Maesteg and its environs. Most of Stumpy’s passengers are repeat customers – often friends and even family – who chat with him about their problems, love lives and times gone by. While the conversations are usually peppered with bantering good humour, they’re also bound together by an undercurrent of struggle and nostalgic longing for Maesteg’s better days. Richly evoking distinct nuances of time, place and community, the UK filmmaker Theodore Tennant offers a bittersweet ride through a memorable corner of Wales.

Director: Theodore Tennant

Producer: Tom Tennant

The school where children make the rules and learn what they want to learn

Established in 1921 by the Scottish writer and educator Alexander Sutherland Neill (1883-1973), Summerhill School in England helped to pioneer the ‘free school’ philosophy, in which lessons are never mandatory and nearly every aspect of student life can be put to a vote. Neill’s radical and controversial view of education was centred on his belief that ‘if the emotions are free, the intellect looks after itself’. Today, despite a series of clashes with Ofsted (the UK’s Office for Standards in Education) in the 1990s and 2000s, Summerhill still operates as a private boarding and day school in Suffolk for pupils from age five upwards.

Neill’s teaching methods and a rising countercultural movement inspired similar institutions to open around the world. Released in 1966, Summerhill explores the school’s educational philosophy by letting Neill and the many international pupils speak for themselves. Candid moments and scenes that evoke the rhythms of daily life at the school give a sense of the children’s lived experience. With an evenhanded approach, the film finds both potential pitfalls and benefits to a Summerhill education – including the results of letting children and teens run laissez-faire around the clock, and the possibilities for students who struggle in the rigid structures of traditional schools.

Director: Dennis Miller

Producer: Cecily Burwash

Website: National Film Board of Canada

The island where 50 million crabs roam free and refugees are trapped in limbo

Located in the Indian Ocean, northeast of Australia and south of Indonesia, the Australian territory of Christmas Island is the arrival point for thousands of asylum seekers held in indefinite detention. Most of the island, however, is a protected national park, famous for its 50 million red crabs and their migration from the jungle to the sea. The Island follows Poh Lin Lee, a trauma counsellor who uses ‘sand tray therapy’ or ‘sand play’ to explore detainees’ personal and diverse stories of hardship, and helps them cope with the difficulties of life in detention. Despite her best efforts, Lee sees her patients – largely powerless, frequently mistreated and with little hope of freedom in sight – faring worse over time due to the anguish of living in limbo. Juxtaposing the spectacle of innumerable migrating crabs with the plight of the trapped detainees, this poignant short documentary probes the breadth, chaos and frequent cruelty of today’s migrant and refugee crises with an urgent humanity.

Director: Gabrielle Brady

Producer: Alex Kelly

Website: Guardian Documentaries

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Wild geese in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, New York City, USA, 2017. Photo by Rebecca Norris Webb from the book Brooklyn, the City Within with Alex Webb/Magnum Photos

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